Public awareness is a primary element of risk reduction. Public awareness and the creation of widespread understanding about disaster reduction have always been crucial elements in risk management strategies. The Disaster Management Act of 2002 and the National Disaster Management Framework of 2005 noted that particular attention must be given to improving education, training and awareness in all communities, especially vulnerable ones.
Increased public awareness about hazards is a vital element in any comprehensive strategy for disaster risk reduction. Public awareness campaigns can be conducted in communities, schools, through the media and official, public, professional and commercial channels. There is a responsibility for governments to promote public awareness of natural hazards and risks on a continuous basis. In order to create a culture of prevention, there needs to be a great degree of public participation and popular understanding. The importance of public awareness in effective disaster risk reduction cannot be overstated and assumes different forms. These include:
- Public awareness as a primary element of risk reduction.
- National public awareness initiatives.
- Special events and major activities.
- The role of the media.
- Local community experience promotes public awareness.
Our public awareness initiatives include:
Climate Change and Energy Week
Climate change is already happening and is likely to lead to an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. It will be people in the developing countries, especially children who will bear the brunt of these disasters, despite having played no direct role in causing climate change. We do not know exactly what disasters climate change will bring about in the future, but it will be the poorest countries and the most vulnerable people in those countries who will be most adversely affected.
Children should not only be seen as victims of natural disasters and climate change – they can be communicators of good practice and active agents of change. While the accelerating deterioration of global environment has its profound effect on children and young people, environmentally aware and empowered children are potentially the greatest agents of change for long-term protection and stewardship of the Earth.
One of the aims of our Disaster Risk Management Centre is to raise awareness of the effects climate change has on our future. During 2009 and 2010, in partnership with Environmental Resource’s Youth Environmental School (YES) Programme we participated in the Climate Change and Energy Week, held annually every third week of August. On 11 October 2011 we staged a play called Father Sun to create further public awareness on climate change.
The aim of this programme is to give learners a better understanding of:
- The effects of climate change on our biodiversity and environment.
- Alternative energy sources.
- The role trees play.
- How climate change is increasing disasters, droughts, extreme storms and desertification.
- Practical ideas on how to reduce the causes that contribute to climate change and global warming and what to do to sustain and save our resources and lessen the impact on the environment.
Disaster Risk Management Centre engaged the services of The Jungle Theatre Company to convey key environmental and social issues using multi-lingual, multi-cultural styles with dynamic mediums of music, clowning, characterization, dance, song and comedy to enlighten and entertain. They have developed a play for this programme called “Father Sun”. It is an educational play about energy and climate change. The scenario is that the sun is fed up with people burning his ancient sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. The sun calls out to a family of consumers who are struggling with power cuts. He tells them how air pollution from electricity and petrol are causing him to change the climate. The family decided to change their lifestyle and find ways to use the sun’s free energy. The play also brings out key messages about raising temperatures and changing climates causing sea level rise, flooding, changing rainfall patterns resulting in more floods in places while some areas will become dry and desert-like, and a decline in the availability of fresh water.
“Father Sun” has been presented to several primary schools across the metropole where learners and educators participated. It has since been slightly adapted to include high school learners and a workshop has also been incorporated into the programme. The workshop involves a select group of learners (e.g. a class) that has been engaged in the theatre intervention and at least one educator, directly after the performance.
As part of the programme, all the schools have been gifted trees to plant. This is part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) “Plant for the planet - The Billion Tree Campaign”. To date in Cape Town we have planted 160 trees at 42 schools. The schools have been encouraged to participate in climate change and energy competitions.
While child-centred disaster risk reduction programmes have proven to be effective in helping children prepare and mitigate the risk of disaster, children’s participation in these activities has succeeded in raising awareness about their role as agents of change. However, experience tells us that more must be done to influence the opinion of adults so they regard children as partners in a shared mission.
Based on the principle that disaster risk reduction begins in schools, instilling environmental awareness at a young age is an effective way to protect the environment. Programmes that improve the availability and quality of environmental education are key interventions for long-term change. While schools - and especially primary schools, are ideal platforms for increasing children’s environmental knowledge, the most effective learning programmes go beyond schools and into local communities.
Increasing children’s and young people’s environmental awareness are not enough. For them to become effective agents of change, avenues must exist for their knowledge to be translated into advocacy and action. Programmes that promote children’s participation in local environmental initiatives that strengthen children networks and that provide a voice for children in local, national and global development processes are all ways to help realize the potential of children to shape the world.
The Spirit of Water and The Spirit of Fire Campaigns
The Disaster Risk Management Centre has engaged the services of The Jungle Theatre Company to develop a play that engages communities in informal settlements in Cape Town in an interactive and hands-on learning experience. Through the use of a theatre as an educational approach, community members of all ages will increase their understanding and retention of the key conveyed messages.
The key messages for Spirit of Water are taken from our Protect Yourself from Floods in Resources pamphlet. The Jungle Theatre Company makes it all come alive through music, dance, audience participation, comedy and drama. The storyline is pitched at a Grade 6 level (age 11/12), so it is suitable for all ages and families and is told in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.
The production tells the story of people moving to Cape Town from rural South Africa. When they arrive during the summer they cannot find accommodation and then move onto vacant land - an informal settlement. When winter arrives, they start to experience floods, because the land that they had settled on is not suitable for building a home. They then learn how to cope with floods, how to raise their floors and what the City’s emergency numbers are.
The Spirit of Fire has more or less the same storyline, but this time the family learns how to respect fire. They learn how not to leave their stoves unattended, to build their structures three metres apart, and so on. These key messages are taken from our Protect Yourself from Fire in Resources pamphlet.